As India pedals its way to a cycling culture, bootstrapped e-commerce startup ChooseMyBicycle is changing the way people buy bicycles and cycling gear.
John F Kennedy famously said, “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.”
For most of us, cycles and cycling are connected to childhood memories. In today’s time, many adults – be it to keep fit or reduce their carbon footprint – have rediscovered their love for cycling. That’s what happened to 31-year old Tamil Nadu state cricketer Rohit Kutappa.
A professional cricketer with a master’s degree in economics and an MBA in marketing, Rohit had to stop playing cricket due to a bad knee injury. It was during this time that he started cycling to strengthen the muscles in his knee joint.
He would cycle from Mahabalipuram to Chennai a few days a week. It was during this time that his friends, 27-year-old Akshay Pillai, who was a state-level basketball player; and 36-year-old Abhishek Bharadwaj, who had worked in sales for the likes of Thermax, Godrej & Boyce and Citibank; joined Rohit on his rides.
Soon, a few friends would get together and go on these rides. Through Facebook feeds and posts, extended friends and family expressed interest and asked if they could rent bikes from them.
Beginning with cycling events
“We reached out to TI Cycles and started CRX - Chain Reaction in 2010 as a cycling events company. In two years, we had covered 4,500 cyclists across seven cities,” Rohit says.
With time, they realised that there was an inherent problem with the way people would choose cycles. Many people would go on to buying cycles of their own, and found it tough to choose the right bike.
Rohit says the team felt the only way to help was to come up with an unbiased online portal.
In 2012, ChooseMyBicycle was started as an information platform, similar to Carwale. However, the team saw people needed more than just information. ChooseMyBicycle soon understood that people wanted to buy the right bicycles from a trusted partner.
“We were helping people with a convenient way of buying and owning cycles without going through the hassle of buying a cycle from a store in a crowded area,” Rohit says.
This helped ChooseMyBicycle evolve into a complete e-commerce portal for bicycles; the shift took place in March this year.
Rohit says the portal has now built an entire ecosystem that caters to the needs of cyclists.
Shift to an e-commerce platform
Apart from bicycles, one can buy accessories, apparel and spares, and also get information on different bicycling events in the country. The team also provides expert reviews and service at home.
The focus of ChooseMyBicycle was to actively grow the cycling community through the events arm. The team in fact found it easier to pivot under R L Ravichandran's guidance, who had worked for Bajaj Auto, TVS Suzuki and Royal Enfield, as their Chairman and Mentor.
The team currently claims to have over 22 Indian and international bicycle brands selling via ChooseMyBicycle. The offers over 60 different brands of accessories and apparel.
However, getting to this point wasn’t easy.
One of the biggest challenges was to achieve scale and figure out how the team could deliver a “fully fitted, ready to ride” bicycle through the length and breadth of the county.
Working around the challenges
Things fell into place when the team developed its customised box and packaging process, which ensures that they ship bicycles in a way that they can be ridden within five minutes of receiving.
The knowledge base for the packaging came from the UK market, where over five million bicycles are shipped “fully fitted, ready to ride”.
“The second challenge was to ensure an anxiety-free ownership experience for the customer. We solved this through our brand promise of honouring the manufacturer’s warranty claims and also addressing after-sales issues through our service-at-home network,” Rohit adds.
The team claims that ChooseMyBicycle has ensured that the unit economics is always positive on every sale. They claim to have shipped over 250 cycles every month at an average price point of Rs 14,500.
The cycling space is fast picking up, especially in cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai. There is Ciclo Café in Chennai, a food and beverages space that also has a store for all cycling needs. Apart from this, there is also Bengaluru-based Bums On the Saddle, which is focused on the needs of the cycling community.
The concept of cycle sharing is also slowly and steadily growing in the city. Zoomcar and Ola have ventured into the space; Chinese bike sharing platform Ofo is also looking closely at the India market.
But the ChooseMyBicycle team is happy with the direction their startup has taken.
Rohit says, “The farthest we have shipped our bicycle from our headquarters in Chennai is 3,100 km. Till date, all our shipments have had no damages and there have been zero percent returns. We are looking at an aggressive growth phase, which will be propelled by several on-ground community events and digital marketing efforts.”
In the next phase of their growth, the team is keen to upgrade their tech platform by hiring more tech talent. The startup is also looking at scaling up using their partner and 2016 Tech30 company Hasura’s tech stack.
Rohit says, “We will also be looking at improving our supply chain process to meet our short-term goal of delivering a bicycle anywhere in India within 4-5 days. The major push will come from our planned foray into being an omni-channel platform through the launch of experiential stores in key markets.”
The stores will act as a key interaction and knowledge point for customers looking for a more in-depth shopping experience that will involve a customised bio-geometry fit, virtual test rides and a whole host of other features that will redefine how people buy cycles in India.